01 May 2010

Weekend Cooking: A Taste of Traditional Brittany

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.


Yesterday I reviewed A Gift from Brittany, Marjorie Price's lovely memoir of her years in France. Her closest friend at that time was an older country woman, Jeanne, who lived down the road in the small hamlet of La Salle.

Today, I am pleased to share with you an authentic and very traditional recipe that Marjorie learned from her friend. I'll let Marjorie do the introductions:
The Quatre Quarts cake is a simple, basic cake that every peasant woman in Brittany used to make. I use the word "peasant" carefully, because that's what the country people called themselves in the 1960s, which is when my memoir takes place. The term refers to people who lived on farms, often farms with no modern comforts and where the customs, farming methods and way of life more closely resembled the Middle Ages than the twentieth century. Many women made their own version of the Quatre Quarts cake, but it was always a basic cake, similar to a simple pound cake, sometimes with seasonal fruit added, and most often enjoyed with a cup of strong, chicory-laced coffee or a glass of hard cider.

I've never been a pastry chef, but the Quatre Quarts is the one cake I love to make. Perhaps because it makes me relive those days in a country kitchen in Brittany with a remarkable peasant woman named Jeanne Montrelay who became my dear friend and changed the way I saw the world so many years ago.
Thanks, Marjorie, I can tell this will be a staple in my house--especially in the fall.

Les Quatres Quarts

  • Sift a cup of flour into a large bowl.
  • Add slightly less than a cup of sugar.
  • Stir the flour and sugar, then hollow out a space in the middle to crack in four fresh eggs (“just laid,” Jeanne would say).
  • Start by stirring the eggs and work your way outward until eggs, flour, and sugar are well mixed.
  • Melt two tablespoons of butter, add to mix.
  • Add two tablespoons of olive oil or light, natural oil, making four tablespoons in all.
  • Mix.
  • Start beating the mix with a sturdy wooden spoon – preferably imitating Jeanne’s expression (described on pages 95-96 in the book).
  • Keep beating until batter is smooth, not runny, and just right.
  • At this point, lightly line a cake tin with butter.
  • Sprinkle over it a teaspoon of flour and shake off.
  • Peel an apple, pear, or whatever fruit is ripe off the tree.
  • Slice and place around the bottom of the pan like a fan unfurling.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Beat batter again.
  • Add a full teaspoon of vanilla and mix well.
  • Add a teaspoon of baking powder and beat thoroughly.
  • Pour immediately over the fruit.
  • Sprinkle the top with a little sugar.
  • Slip gently into the oven.
  • For the next forty minutes or so, walk softly, be careful not to slam doors.
  • After about forty minutes, or when your start smelling the cake, check it by dipping a knife into the batter.
  • When the knife comes out clean, it’s done. Don’t overcook.
  • Remove from oven and allow it to cool off.
  • Turn pan upside down and release cake onto a plate so fruit is on top.
  • Slice and serve, preferably with coffee or hard cider (from Brittany, of course.)
Bon app├ętit.

I hope you enjoy this taste of Brittany.


Sandy Nawrot 5/1/10, 6:59 AM  

This actually reminds me of a Polish cake that I make. Plus, it doesn't have a pound of butter in it, which is kind of nice since it is bathing suit weather! Yum!

Anonymous,  5/1/10, 7:01 AM  

EEKS, the beating of batter actually seems quite difficult to me!

Love the part about not slamming any doors ;)

Beth 5/1/10, 7:08 AM  

I love cakes like this! So simple, with a bit of nature's fresh sweetness.

Lenore Appelhans 5/1/10, 7:29 AM  

Lol - now I need to see her expression!

Marg 5/1/10, 7:32 AM  

This is my first time participating in Weekend Cooking,although I did put my link on the wrong post earlier today! Whooops.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 5/1/10, 7:37 AM  

with "walk softly, be careful not to slam doors" as an instruction, I'll have to wait until my kids are grown to make this :)

The memoir looks wonderful!

caite 5/1/10, 7:47 AM  

It reminds me of another recipe...not sure which one, but it does.
It sounds very nice, fairly simple with the nice apple top. yum.

Jill 5/1/10, 8:05 AM  

I was sold when I read that she wasn't a pastry chef, but this was one cake she loved to make. I'm going to have to try it!

DanaB 5/1/10, 8:48 AM  

Both the book and the cake have piqued my interest!

~Happy Weekend :)


bermudaonion 5/1/10, 9:22 AM  

Those cakes are good, but that sounds a little complicated for me!

Heather 5/1/10, 9:43 AM  

This recipe is wonderfully written. I will have to give it a try just for that reason. Also it sounds flexible depending what you have on hand. Will have to travel to my friend Janet's at Stone Meadow Farms for some fresh laid eggs.

JoAnn 5/1/10, 9:52 AM  

My grandmother used to make a cake similar to this one. I'll try the recipe in the fall with apples. The books sounds very good, too!

Margot 5/1/10, 1:07 PM  

My mother and grandmother made cakes and we would have to tiptoe around the kitchen and never slam the back door. The reward was always worth it.

These are the kinds of cakes where the more you make them, the better they get because it all depends on the improving skill of the person who is stirring and whipping the batter. But - I think of all that history. All those women perfecting their skill. It's beautiful to think about.

Diann @ The Thrifty Groove 5/1/10, 1:22 PM  

Oh, this looks like a good cake! I so remember the "no slamming doors" when I was a kid at my grandma's house while she was baking!

Esme 5/1/10, 3:54 PM  

sorry I am making a mess of your widget-I tried cleaning it up and just made it worse.

BooksPlease 5/2/10, 5:17 AM  

I remember too that we had to be very careful opening the back door when Mum was baking - so different nowadays. And now we have lights in the oven and glass doors to see what is going on in there!

Heather 5/2/10, 8:32 AM  

Hmmm....cake....I love cake. And that one sounds good! I can remember being careful in the kitchen a few times myself. My grandmother didn't cook often, but she did make cakes and got QUITE upset if I messed one up!

Amy 5/2/10, 10:52 AM  

This sounds both easy and tasty! I definitely want to try it out.

Serena 5/3/10, 11:41 AM  

I just love cake!

J.T. Oldfield 5/4/10, 5:44 PM  

I'll definitely have to try this!

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